If you ask me, the importance of coaching changes is one of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy football. It’s not that we’re ignorant of coaches and what effect they can have, but rather that we tend to paint with very broad strokes and work in generalities. We operate on assumptions like “the New Orleans Saints have a good passing offense, I want a piece of that” or “I want any player Aaron Rodgers is targeting.”
While these things may be true, all too often they are retrospective analysis – we find out too late that the Los Angeles Rams, for instance, are now a really good offensive team.
In this series, I’ll take a close look at the major coaching changes throughout the league. My goal is to provide a little more context of what to expect out of the new regimes and hopefully help you find some angles to attack in your leagues this off-season.
In some cases, it can be hard to pinpoint the exact reason one coach or another is let go. Jim Caldwell was a good example of this – he didn’t really do anything wrong in Detroit, he just didn’t do enough right. But sometimes, the reason a coach gets the axe is as clear as the nose on his face, or in the case of Ben McAdoo, as clear as the gel in his hair. When McAdoo elected to bench Eli Manning for Geno Smith, the writing was on the wall. McAdoo had to go.
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The Giants elected to stick with the offensive side of the ball with their hiring of Pat Shurmur, the former Vikings offensive coordinator. Shurmur seemed like a shoe-in for a head coaching job somewhere, especially after the season he put together with Case Keenum and almost a trip to the Super Bowl. He’s certainly a coach that many fan bases were hoping to land. It’s no surprise, given the Vikings were a top-five offensive unit last year even with the journeyman Keenum at the helm. They also had an unsettled situation at running back, but still managed to succeed on offense.
So what kind of offense does Shurmur bring to New York? Like Matt Nagy, Shurmur is a branch of the Andy Reid coaching tree. Shurmur runs a west coast based offense that spreads the ball around but also mixes in some deep shots. (You know, like this one to Stefon Diggs in a certain playoff game.) One of the criticisms of Ben McAdoo is that his offense became far too predictable. Shurmur showed a great ability to mix things up, so it will be interesting to see how his offense translates for the Giants.
He hired Mike Shula as both the offensive coordinator and QB coach. Shula spent the past few seasons as the OC in Carolina, but his role is expected to be different for the Giants. He will be more responsible for game planning and the overall offensive strategy as Shurmur will be calling the plays. Shula will also likely be tasked with grooming a replacement for Eli Manning, whoever that might be.
The Giants have a bit of a mess in the running game, and they also brought in a new offensive line coach to try to help out there. Hal Hunter last coached the Cleveland offensive line during the 2016 season. He also worked with the Colts from 2013-2015. The issue here, however, is that the offensive line in Cleveland wasn’t very good in 2016. They were ranked 32nd in pass protection and 28th in adjusted line yards. (Hat tip to Football Outsiders.) They also gave up a frightening 66 sacks. Hopefully, he has better luck in New York.
I don’t expect they will be benching Eli Manning in New York again anytime soon, but I do expect they draft his eventual successor. I don’t know if Davis Webb has any starter potential or not, but I know it’s hard to find anyone excited about him. But then again, Shurmur did pretty well regardless of who the signal-caller was in Minnesota, so maybe they can do something with Webb.
When it comes to running back, I just don’t know. But again, Shurmur had a somewhat similar situation in Minnesota after Dalvin Cook went down. He started a hodgepodge of running backs but had success with them, unlike the players in New York. I just don’t know if the answer is on the roster. I can’t get excited about Orleans Darkwa, and Paul Perkins proved absolutely nothing. But perhaps some of this can be blamed on a predictable offense and poor offensive line play. I suppose if I had hopes for anyone in New York, it would be Wayne Gallman, but nothing gets me that interested.
One of the big reasons for the Giants’ collapse last season was the loss of Odell Beckham. Now he gets to ply his skills in a brand new scheme. I’m sure Shurmur and Shula will find a myriad of ways to use OBJ. I could also see Sterling Shepard flourish in this system, and his skill set is made for a west coast offense. I expect Shepard to be the Adam Thielen in this offense. Now you can’t get OBJ unless you’re willing to sell the farm, but Shepard might be someone you can.
I really like the idea of Evan Engram under Shurmur/Shula as well. It’s not that I saw a lot from the tight end in Minnesota, but Shurmur didn’t have a weapon like Engram to use, either. I could very well be wrong about Shepard, and Engram ends up with the Thielen targets for the Giants. I’d love to have Engram, but again I don’t know if he can be had.
The Bottom Line
There is certainly reason for excitement in New York. McAdoo started out pretty well, but the fans and owners quickly soured on him. Shurmur did an awful lot with Keenum and crew last season, and I’m excited to see how well his offense can perform with one of the best receivers in football at his disposal, a veteran Super Bowl winning QB, and an electric young tight end. Things could be very interesting for that offense in 2018. The only hangup is it’s awfully hard to buy OBJ or Engram currently without overpaying.
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